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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Second Chances on Writing, an interview with romance writer, Peggy Bird

Writing was not your first or even second career. When did you decide to get serious and try your hand at writing?
I have been a writer all my life. It has been part of almost every job I’ve ever had and I’ve written for myself for as long as I can remember. During the years I had one of those pesky, time-consuming day jobs, I wrote short pieces. Thanks to a supportive husband, I was eventually able to let that part of my life go and focus on writing—longer pieces first, then novels.

Did you take writing courses in college?
My college career was almost as varied as my occupational one—I was a wife and mother in addition to working full-time when I went back for a college degree. I ended up with a double major in history and political science and enough credits for a degree in English if I’d taken 9 more hours of a language. I had already been in college for years and was ready to leave so I didn’t go for it. I have regularly taken writing workshops since then, the latest, a day-long workshop with Donald Maass sponsored by my local RWA chapter.

Prior to your current book series, your works were published in such notable series as Cup of Comfort and Chicken Soup for the Soul. What was the first thing that you wrote that got published?
The first piece I ever submitted was accepted for an anthology. The second piece I submitted was published in a regional magazine. Wow, I thought. This is easy. Then reality hit as the next dozen or so pieces were rejected. I kept at it, though. Eventually, after almost a decade of writing, I’ve had work published in a dozen anthologies, a number of magazines, have won awards for children’s stories and memoir pieces and have five books under contract with Crimson.
In your bio it says that your children’s stories “were not vetted by anyone before being published.” Does that literally mean no one reviewed or critiqued your work at all prior to submission?
Heavens, no. I have been lucky enough over the years to have wonderful critique partners who willingly read my work, sometimes enduring the same piece over and over again. The comment you quoted was meant only to say that, although I let my daughter read a piece beforehand to decide if I’ll embarrass her by publishing something about her childhood, the other stories I write don’t need to be given her seal of approval. Which, considering I write spicy romance, is probably a good thing.

When did you decide to start writing a novel? When did you decide to do a series?
I wrote a mystery novel when I first started writing seriously because that was my escape genre of the moment. It got some amazingly good rejections. But when no one was interested in publishing it, I put it away and stuck to short pieces. I also began another art career in kiln-formed glass.

However, a series of about five characters began to obsess me—a couple of cops, a DA, an artist and an art gallery owner. As they began to pair off, fall in love (and fall into bed), it was obvious I was writing romance. One set of characters led to another and pretty soon I had a series of six novels with stand-alone plots but characters who wander from book to book. 
How many rewrites of each of your books would you say you do?
The first three novels I wrote have been rewritten so many times I’ve lost count but I’m sure each one is had rewrites in double digits. Interestingly, these are books 2, 3 and 6 of the series. (In fact, I’m polishing #6 right now.) Books 1 and 5, I wrote during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWrMo) in 2010 and 2011 and they went through, maybe, 3 drafts and final polishing, as did book 4. 
How did you first go about finding a publisher? Did you query agents?
I queried agents, was able to get a half dozen to read one or another of the first completed novels but not successful in snagging one to take me on as a client. Then I read a Facebook post about an editor looking for romance novels for a new imprint from Adams Media, which had published some of the anthologies where I’d placed work. I queried, got accepted and here I am, a year later with five books under contract and one more almost ready to go to my editor. Still no agent and not really looking for one at this point.

I understand your publisher does eBooks as part of a monthly book club for a flat fee similar to what Netflix does for movies. How are you paid?
Crimson publishes our books in several ways. One way is the book club you mention and we do share the monthly fee between the authors whose books are downloaded. 
But that’s not the major way our books are released. The biggest sales are from individual downloads from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other outlets for eBook platforms—Kindle, iPad, Nook. Also, about 3-4 months after release as an eBook, our books come out in trade paperback as Print on Demand through Amazon.

How has your attitude about writing changed over the years?
What has changed about the way I look at my writing is that I am much more aware of the business end of things and the need for marketing, no matter who the publisher is.

How long does it take you to write a book today as opposed to your first novel?
I can now write a first draft of a 50K word novel in 30 days—NaNoWrMo training. I work at my writing about 6-8 hours every day. I don’t have a daily word count goal but I do have monthly deadlines for what I want to accomplish.

Are you going to stay with writing romance or do you want to try your hand at other genres?
Yes, I will be continuing to write romances until my editor stops contracting with me for them. I do, however, have a woman’s novel I’m working on which isn’t a romance.

How long does it take for a writer to write exclusively and not hold down a second job?
To be blunt, don’t quit your day job unless you have another source of income to pay your mortgage. It takes time for most writers to build a platform, to build a readership, to build a backlist, to make sense of an industry in turmoil over the future of eBooks and bound books, the role of agents, how many publishers does it take to change Amazon, where will books be sold when the last bookstore closes. And while you do all that, you have to eat and have a roof over your head. Most of my Crimson Romance sisters work full-time, raise kids and write when they can grab the time to do it. I’m in awe of them.

With the constant churn of new romance novels each month as your publisher does, what type of shelf life does your book have?
With eBooks, there is no shelf life—they last forever. In the old days, category romances like mine were pulled from the shelves and pulped after three months. Now my eBooks continue to exist online, each of my releases sells my backlist. The books are always there, always visible when you pull up my name on Amazon or the Crimson Website.

What suggestions do you have for enhancing a writer’s social media platform?
I joke that if I knew the answer to how to use social media and the internet to effectively sell books, I’d stop writing romance and write a book about that to help everyone who’s in the same boat I am—paddling along in a sea of confusion, trying to figure it out. I regularly use Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pintrest and blog on my own and other websites. I solicit reviews from book bloggers. I do local readings, pass out postcards with my book cover/book blurb, do press releases and Goodreads giveaways. With each book release, I seem to do more of all of the above.

Does it result in book sales? I wish I knew. I’m lucky enough to have a cadre of other Crimson Romance writers who are generous in sharing their experience with everything from who to contact to review our books to where to get the best deal on postcards and other promotional materials to how long to run a Goodreads giveaway.

One of my Crimson sisters is trying to put together a list of what we’ve all tried to see who has had the best luck with which approach. I hope she comes up with a magic answer. Until someone does, however, I’ll use every tool I can to get my name out and to plug my books. It’s the old throw-enough-mud-against-the-fence-and-some-will-stick approach.

What is the best advice you’ve learned you’d like to pass along to other aspiring writers
My best advice to writers is the advice every writing workshop teacher I’ve ever had has said at some point in the discussion—just write. As often as you can. As much as you can. The old cliché is true—writers write. Keep at it, no matter what.

Or, to paraphrase Corinthians, now abideth craft, talent and persistence, these three but the greatest of these is persistence.

Love that last line. It is definitely all about persistence. The more you write the greater your chance of getting published. If you have enjoyed this interview and would like to learn more about Peggy and her writing here are the options:

To buy her books on Amazon         Facebook                  Twitter                   Website

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